With an eventful first day of the Island XPrix in Sardinia, Extreme E kicked off their weekend in Italy with Rosberg Xtreme Racing's Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky and Johan Kristoffersson taking victory. Laia Sanz and Matthias Ekström now lead the championship ahead of the second round tomorrow. Heat, dirt and crashes filled the story of the day!
The Extreme E season stops in Sardinia, Italy – the only location previously visited by the series since its inception. But there are several changes, with many team changes and new drivers.
Nasser Al-Attiyah is competing in Baja Cross Country World Cup and will miss the weekend in Extreme E: Sebastien Loeb will therefore drive the ABT Cupra SUV together with Klara Andersson.
Carl Cox Motorsport is diving deeper and will replace for the rest of the season with 16 year old Lia Block, daughter of Ken Block who is also competing in Nitrocross NEXT and some more series this year. She is used to off-road racing and even had some tests in open-wheelers this year – having made a name for herself already despite her young age.
Sardinia will challenge the drivers with hard underground dirt, dust and stones with 2,9 kilometres length course. It is expected to be the fastest track on the calendar, interrupted with tight corners. The drivers will have two rounds each with the mandatory switch zone.
Heat 1 (X44 - Christina Gutierrez, Fraser McConnel, JBXE - Hedda Hosås, Andreas Bakkerud, RXR - Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky, Johann Kristoffersson, Carl Cox Motorsport - Lia Block, Timo Scheider, ABT Cupra - Klara Andersson, Sebastien Loeb)
At the starting line all drivers except for McConnel activated their Hyperdrive to accelerate as the race went green; Kristoffersson pushed his car into the lead and stayed in this position until the switch line.
Scheider and McConnel even made contact as they got back on one racing line – which resulted into a broken door for the X44 car. That didn't stop the team from still finishing at pace to finish line.
Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky was first out of the switch zone, without much pressure until the finish line and took the first win of the weekend ahead of Klara Andersson. Third-placed was debutant driver Lia Block, who drove brilliantly and defended her third spot after the switch zone ahead of Christina Gutierrez – who found no way around the 16 year old and finished in 4th. She would also drop back to 5th because she touched a flag, resulting into a penalty.
Heat 2 (Andretti - Catie Munnings, Timmy Hansen, Acciona Sainz - Laia Sanz, Matthias Ekström, McLaren - Emma Gilmour, Tanner Foust, Chip Ganassi Racing - Amanda Sorensen, RJ Anderson, Veloce - Molly Taylor, Kevin Hansen)
Timmy Hansen was fastest off the line, followed by Ekström and his brother Kevin. While Ekström set pressure on Timmy, positions were unchanged and they would pit in this order in the switch zone.
Problems hit the Veloce team, which was forced to change a tire due to a puncture and lost their lead; McLaren hit trouble with a puncture too. Catie Munnings was the first driver out of the switch zone, followed by Laia Sanz, as the latter couldn't match Catie's pace and the gap grew bigger.
Munnings eventually won heat 2 ahead of Sanz and Amanda Sorensen in third.
"P1 in Qualifying 1 and fastest lap. Let’s keep that up!" - Catie Munnings
Heat 1 (Veloce, X44, Acciona Sainz, RXR, Carl Cox Motorsport)
This session was started by all female drivers in the teams, with Laia Sanz having the best start to take the lead, followed by Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky and Molly Taylor. They would not change positions until the Switch Zone.
Lia Block went for the wrong line at the start and dropped back far behind the other teams, coming last to the switch zone behind X44.
After the driver change, Ekström scored the heat win ahead of Kristoffersson and Kevin Hansen – which meant that Acciona Sainz and RXR progressed to the final race later in the day.
Heat 2 (Chip Ganassi Racing, JBXE, Andretti, McLaren, ABT Cupra)
In this session it would be Amanda Sorensen to get the best launch off the start and lead the pack, holding the first place until the Switch Zone. Anderson brought the car home in first position ahead of Andretti United and ABT Cupra, after no battles for position followed the start phase.
Redemption Race (Veloce, Carl Cox Motorsport, McLaren, X44, JBXE)
The Redemption Race was the first session awarding championship points this weekend; male drivers started the race, before the female drivers took over midway through the race.
Kevin Hansen was fastest from the start, while Bakkerud made contact and retired from the race. But it wasn't the only drama, as McConnell braked late to the Switch Zone entry, lost control over his car and missed the entry.
Molly Taylor was first out, followed by Emma Gilmour who put pressure on her countrywoman – but wasn't able to pass. Veloce took home the victory ahead of McLaren and Carl Cox Motorsport.
"Challenging day for us but we finished on a good note with a win in the redemption race. We know we’ve got the pace and we get to have another crack tomorrow!" - Molly Taylor
Lia Block who had an impressive first weekend in the electric off-road series.
"I enjoyed it a lot", she said. "Coming in I didn't have high expectations for myself - a new series, new competitors and a whole new car. The car was very cool and nothing like I've ever driven before."
"Today was hard, for sure", Block continued. "Free Practice yesterday was my only time in the car, so going into today I just had the mindset to try and do the best as possible. We ended P3 in the Redemption Race but unfortunately had a penalty coming out of the Switch Zone so we moved to fourth. The day went really good for me I think. I'm really enjoying Extreme E right now."
Final (Acciona Sainz, Chip Ganassi Racing, RXR, ABT Cupra, Andretti)
After the Votes from the GridPlay, ABT would start in the middle lane, Acciona Sainz and Andretti from the opposite sides and the rest in between – as everyone wanted to choose the shortest way through the middle.
Anderson took the lead while RXR, Acciona Sainz and ABT Cupra were challenged by some troubles: Loeb came back to the pits to change a tire after a puncture. The rough ground proved to be enormously demanding on the tires.
In the Switch Zone, Anderson was first in, followed by Timmy Hansen, Mattias Ekström and Johan Kristoffersson. But drama wasn't over: Sorensen was out in the lead again, but behind her, Catie Munnings and Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky made contact and the British driver rolled over. Catie was out of the car without harm but the race was over for Andretti.
In the lead, Sorensen scored the win for Chip Ganassi Racing but was dropped down to third as she left the Switch Zone seconds too early and got a penalty which promoted RXR to the top step.
“RJ did a phenomenal job from the start to make it through to the front", commented Amanda Sorensen. "He passed me a clean windshield and from there we held it down. Unfortunately, we had a penalty coming out of the Switch Zone. We crossed the line in P1 but stood on the podium in P3. Overall, we're making steps in the right direction. Tomorrow is a new day and we're going to go get them.”
Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky pushed hard, hunted down Laia Sanz and passed her to come home in a strong second across the line – and to ultimately earn the win.
"Feels so great to bring home P1! Fantastic work by the whole team all day." - Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky
Ahead of tomorrow´s race, Acciona Sainz lead the championship standings with a two point advantage on Veloce. An exciting and dramatic second race day will start in the morning again in Sardinia, Italy.
“We have started the weekend really well. On pure pace today we would have even deserved a race victory. Although, given the grip that we had in the Grand Final, we will settle for second. It seemed like the Final was lost, but we knew how to fight and we are happy because we got something out of the situation. We are happy to take the lead in the championship." - Laia Sanz